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New Zealand’s acceptance of the industry of war is as absurd as gun tolerance in the United States, writes Murray Rae.
The roll call of mass shootings in the United States continues to grow on a regular and inevitable basis.
Following every tragedy, there is an outpouring of incredulity within the US and around the world, at the refusal by many Americans to acknowledge this epidemic of mass shootings is due in no small part to the ready availability of guns in the US. An ever-growing body of research supports this claim. And yet we continue to hear the argument that gun ownership is an inviolable right and a freedom that cannot be denied.
Max Fisher and Josh Keller wrote in The Interpreter last week: "After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society."
Beyond the suggestion that stricter gun control would be a violation of individual rights and freedoms, we are also told that people need guns in America in order to protect themselves and their families. The antidote to gun violence, it is argued, is more guns.
The absurdity of such arguments and the continual refusal to acknowledge the ready availability of guns is precisely the problem, baffles many of us, and yet the very same logic is invoked on a global scale in defence of military spending around the globe.
Nations need to protect themselves, it is claimed, and this claim is said to justify the expenditure of billions of dollars per annum on weaponry. The Stockholm International Peace Research Unit provides up-to-date data on the global arms trade, including details of the major exporters (America, Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom) and the major importers of arms (India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, China and Algeria). This trade in arms is necessary, it is argued, so nations can protect themselves, and so we can maintain peace and order in the world.
This absurd logic is encouraged, of course, by weapons manufacturers who have no interest in peace but only in profits. The top 10 companies involved in weapons exporting, excluding Chinese companies for which no figures are accessible, profited to the tune of $US25billion ($NZ36billion) in 2015. They profit from the manufacture and sale of instruments designed to kill.
It is sometimes claimed the primary cause of the mass killings in the US is not guns but the evil intent and derangement of the killers. There can be no question such factors are part of the problem. But if that is true, we have to ask about the evil intent and the level of derangement that supports the global arms trade, a trade in which we are all involved simply in virtue of paying tax.
We are also involved by virtue of our being willing as a nation to host the annual New Zealand Defence Industry Association Conference which provides opportunity for companies involved in the global arms trade to promote their wares. The 2017 conference, held last month in Wellington, was sponsored in part by Lockheed Martin, the third-most profitable arms exporter in the Western world. Our tolerance of this industry of death is as absurd as the tolerance in America of the ready availability of guns.
Our continuing tolerance of war, and of the industry which encourages it, is a failure of imagination, of courage, and of faith. The overcoming of such failures requires people like the Hebrew prophets Isaiah and Joel who look forward to a day when people "shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks", to a day when "nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more". It requires people like Te Whiti-o-Rongomai and Tahu Kakahi who, at Parihaka, resisted by peaceful means the armed aggression of the Crown. It requires people who are prepared to follow the instruction of Jesus to "put away your sword".
For the first 300 years of Christian history, the Church was resolute in its obedience to this command. Following the conversion to Christianity of the Roman Emperor Constantine, however, and the Church’s subsequent alliance with political power, the Church has with notable but too infrequent exception acquiesced in the prosecution of war.
In the face of the global arms trade, Christians need to recover the prophetic imagination of Isaiah and Joel, the courage of the people of Parihaka, and the faithfulness of those early Christians who, on the basis of the teaching and example of Jesus, refused to engage in war. As I see it, there can be no other faithful Christian option.
- Murray Rae is a professor in the department of theology and religion at the University of Otago.